I was heartened to read Ron Brinson’s April 8 column. It expresses thoughts I’ve held since the early 1990s when, as the executive director of the Charleston Area Arts Council, I undertook the development of a long-term, regional plan to expand arts and cultural resources in the tri-county area. I understood that regionalism and self-interested political people were hamstringing a unified vision for the future of the Lowcountry.
Geographic boundaries such as the Ashley and Cooper rivers, the swamps of Dorchester County, and the various islands along our coast create psychological barriers. We bring a village mindset to a complex and connected community. Even if we were able to think and plan as a regional, cohesive group, I think we would still be psychologically challenged by these geographic boundaries.
People travel the region to get to work. They also travel for leisure and entertainment. Communities such as Nexton and Cane Bay are built with a focus on having all needs within their boundaries. They are great but may end up being enclaves for the economically privileged.
These housing-dense communities generate less commuter traffic, but they do not mimic a city’s natural growth like on the Charleston peninsula in the 19th and 20th centuries. Without forward-thinking planning, these enclaves may become restricted communities, containing only people who can pay the price of admission. Daniel Island, with its lone affordable-housing apartment community, doesn’t begin to emulate the natural growth of a city.
People with limited resources cannot afford luxury goods sold in shops within these communities. They need lower cost groceries and lower cost stores. And when they are living in a suburban-style, new-city development, they are forced to rely on a car to travel to affordable shops. That defeats the purpose of an all-inclusive live/work community.
We need regional rapid transit bus systems — sooner rather than later. We need staggered work times to lessen traffic and help conserve gasoline. We need higher density housing to lower the cost of homes. We need to change our thinking that density is wrong. However, I’m not certain of the ability of all of us to change our mindsets, because it goes against the grain of the hard-wired American dream of owning land, lots of land — don’t fence me in.
There are many senior citizens who in the 1990s refused to accept the fact that a tidal wave of growth was going to sweep over us. Eyes were shut to opportunities to create a new vision of our region — one serving all people, facilitating ease of living and diverse economic options. These are the people who are fighting growth, fighting increased densities, and stymieing opportunities for regional planning.
We need a new set of leaders and younger supportive voters to encourage new ways of looking at our region’s growth, development and future. I’m hoping there will be many civic-minded, future-oriented 20-somethings voting and running for office in the months and years to come. It’s about time.